It's True: U.S. Southern Command Has No Carriers to Fight Venezuela

David Axe

Key point: Politically, an intervention in South America would be unpopular and to stop another one, SOUTHCOM isn't allowed to have permanent ownership of any carriers.

A failed coup attempt targeting Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro on April 30 ended in confusion and failure. Russian and Cuban advisors and a strong core of the Venezuelan military continues to support Maduro amid economic collapse and widespread protests.

U.S. president Donald Trump in 2018 threatened military action against Maduro but didn’t make good on the threat. Washington instead imposed sanctions in order to pressure Maduro to step down.

But at least one lawmaker wants to escalate Washington’s involvement in the Venezuelan tragedy. “Cuba, Russia send troops to prop Maduro up in Venezuela … while we talk/sanction,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, on May 3, 2019 tweeted. “Where is our aircraft carrier?”

It’s true that U.S. Southern Command permanently controls none of the U.S. Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier and few other major forces. But there’s a good reason for that. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in 1973 backed Chilean general Augusto Pinochet in his military coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende.

Pinochet’s brutal, 17-year rule marked an inflection point in U.S. relations with Latin America. “It was one of the more notorious of many interventions by the United States in Latin America,” The Economist in 2018 explained, “starting with a war against Mexico in 1846, including other coups during the Cold War and culminating in the invasion of Panama in 1989 to topple Manuel Noriega, a former American intelligence asset turned ally of drug traffickers.”

This legacy forged enduring and widespread resentment. It has made non-intervention in the affairs of other states Latin governments’ default diplomatic position, attenuated only timidly by the adoption of the defence of human rights and democracy in the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001.

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